As I think back to the deep influences of faith in my life, I'm so grateful for the balance and tension between that which is orderly and that which is spontaneous. My orderly side comes from the Presbyterian tradition, with its emphasis on decency and order in all things. But the congregation in which I grew up was also a part of the evangelical movement, and influenced by the Jesus people coming to faith in the 1960's and 1970's.
From the one I received beauty, mystery, the consistency of flow, attention to detail, and scholarship. The weekly service was predictable, but to those who love such expressions the predictability was a foundation of stability. Every week we would gather, and the story would be told, a rock in an unpredictable world.
From the other I received spontaneity, individuality, the call to personal faith and discipleship, and passion for God. The weekly service seemed free-flowing, and invited a personal response and commitment. The language seemed familiar, people talking about God in ways that were relevant to the world in which we lived.
Of course, each of the two approaches has weakness as well as strength. And each approach will often capture the strengths of the other approach.
All of the above is, first, to appreciate all of God's people, and all of the ways in which we pursue, encounter, and express our faith.
In addition, I hope that we will be able to recognize and own our forms of expression without failing to find value in other forms. To that end, I regularly turn to books of collected, written prayers, and especially appreciate some that come from a time long distant. One of those books is The Valley of Vision: A Collection of Puritan Prayers and Devotion. These written prayers date back as far as the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. My preferred style of prayer is typically more free-flowing. For instance, I don't have or use notes when I lead prayer in congregational worship. But I'm also aware that my "spontaneous" prayers can sometimes be predictable, anything but spontaneous. Reading these older prayers helps me appreciate those who carefully thought out the content of a prayer before offering it. While written, each one is in fact spontaneous, taking a different approach. At the same time, the prayers are powerful expressions of a thoughtful theological foundation.
Here's part of a prayer to the Holy Spirit, from my reading this morning:
Come as power,
to expel every rebel lust, to reign supreme
and keep me yours;
Come as teacher,
leading me into all truth, filling me with all understanding.
Come as love,
that I may adore the Father, and love him as my all.
Come as joy,
to dwell in me, move in me, animate me.
Come as light,
illuminating the Scripture,
molding me in its laws.
Come as sanctifier,
body, soul, and spirit wholly yours.
Come as helper,
with strength to bless and keep,
directing my every step.
Come as beautifier,
bringing order out of confusion,
loveliness out of chaos.
Whoever wrote that prayer demonstrates a life fully devoted to Jesus Christ, and a deep thoughtfulness about the challenge and journey of faith. The content alone could be developed into a series of messages: The Holy Spirit as power, teacher, love, joy, light, sanctifier, helper, and beautifier. I find myself returning to the prayer and pondering. I find myself invited to self-reflection, and into worship.
Over the next few weeks our congregations will be proposing a new path forward, and setting forth on the journey. May we stand firmly on a rock-solid foundation. May we be moved by a passion for Jesus Christ. May we be called to a common unity of purpose and vision. May we appreciate one another. May we see the work of the Holy Spirit in our midst, a work so powerful it connects us with the prayers of saints past, even while leading us to the new life of God's people in an ever-changing world.